Joe Maddon Is A Larger
Than Life, Manager Of Yore
Baseball Has Always Had Its Weird, Abrupt Separations Of Men And Organizations And In That Tradition, The Departure Of Maddon From The Tampa Bay Rays To The Chicago Cubs Will Be One That Is Remembered For A Long Time
Image by Keith Allison and used under the terms of a Creative Commons agreement.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 5, 2014 — The Chicago Cubs made another in a long line of desperate moves to try and shake the organization out of a 106-year-old funk. But, will hiring talented manager Joe Maddon away from the Rays make a difference, or will Maddon just be the latest baseball talent to be chewed up and spit out by the Chicago’s Bad News Bears?
The move is a brilliant one for Theo Epstein and the Cubs. I don’t think anyone is arguing with that, though the Rays would argue it was a little too brilliant. They’re alleging that the Cubs tampered in the situation, causing Maddon to opt out of his final year with Tampa Bay. But, nothing appears to be coming of that and it is likely sour milk from either the Rays or other teams in the NL Central.
The tampering charges may or may not be true, but, in reality, any team interested in Maddon knew they didn’t have to tamper. Quite simply, Maddon was the most eligible bachelor in baseball and he — and his agent — knew what opting out would bring. The likes of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were all potential suitors for his services and could offer exponentially more money than the Rays.
I’m actually quite surprised that the Cubs ran with this deal without a peep from the Yankees. But, New York General Manager Brian Cashman has an odd affection for skipper Joe Girardi that defies logic.
The hype is deserved, too. Maddon is a two-time Manager of the Year who turned a notoriously awful franchise around and created a perennial contender. He didn’t do it alone, but a lot credit has to be given to the manager. In just three seasons after taking the reins of the Rays, he led the team to 97 wins and an AL pennant despite fielding a roster that started Dioner Navarro, Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett.
He also had stars like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, but both Crawford and Pena haven’t put up regular productive numbers since leaving Maddon’s tutelage.
The manager’s success lies in his personality as much as it does it baseball knowledge. He’s a quirky, likable guy a la Ned Yost, but somehow manages to garner more respect around the league than this year’s World Series runner up. I think that has a lot to do with Maddon’s impressive knowledge for the game (and life in general) and the way he relates with players.
Maddon is a bit of a goof when it comes time to bond with players, but he’s not going to let them get away with anything come game time. Just ask BJ Upton. Maddon strikes that fine balance between cool dad and drill sergeant.
He also knows baseball better than most human beings. He brings a distinctive mixture of old school managerial style but knows how to employ new tools like sabermetrics and the increasing implementation of the shift.
He’s a former minor league catcher, which is the first thing he has going for him.
Look it up, catcher’s make the best managers.
He then spent 31 years working his way up through the Angels organization, coaching and scouting in different capacities. He then served as a coach under Angels manager Mike Scioscia before taking the Rays job.
So, we’ve established Maddon is a good, even great, manager.
But, will any of that help him turn the Cubs around?
After all, he wouldn’t be the first worthy candidate the organization has destroyed. In fact, if he fails, it will also mark the end for one-time wunderkind Theo Epstein.
But, if anyone can turn around the Cubs, I think it’s Maddon. After all, the team has more than a passing resemblance to his old Rays squads. He’s got a young slugger to work with in Anthony Rizzo and a potential star leadoff hitter in Starlin Castro. Then, he’s got a slew of replacement level players that it’ll be his job to get the most out of.
One thing Maddon doesn’t have going for him is pitching. Those old Rays staffs had guys like David Price, James Shields and Matt Garza. He’ll have young gun Kyle Hendricks and hopefully a bounce back year from Travis Wood, but those guys aren’t staff aces.
But, that’s just what the staff looks like right now. Remember, John Lester, Max Scherzer and, yep, Shields are all free agents. And, you can bet that the Cubs spending isn’t going to stop on the manager. Expect the team to add one or two more arms.
While they’re at it, the front office guys will probably add a bat or two like Nelson Cruz or Russell Martin.
Will the Cubs turn around and finally bring a World Series to the Cubs faithful?
If I say yes, I’m probably going to get struck by lightning. But, if anyone could do it, it’s Joe Maddon.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
The Sun Also Sets: Or, Living In Phoenix In Summertime? Local Writer Takes Us On A Trip Through Some Of The Sights And Sounds Available In The Phoenix Metro When Its Hot — And What We Adore, Bemoan And Find Jocular — In A Partly Fictional Tale.
Beyond The Hill An exceedingly intelligent homeless amnesiac finds a dear friend on the streets who is not really from the neighborhood, but beyond the hill.